Buying a RIB - Part 1

Read part one of our two part guide on buying a Rigid Inflatable Boat or RIB boat. We explore where to begin, SIBs vs RIBs and what to look out for when buying a RIB.

family out on a ribeye boatRIBs RNLI Lifeboats

The first part of our RIB buyer’s guide provides some helpful tips and useful background information.

If you want to have some great fun out on the water and are looking to buy a fast, versatile powerboat then a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) could be the right choice for you. RIBs are very popular and deservedly so, having built an excellent reputation as fast and rugged boats that can cope with challenging conditions.

As with any major purchase, doing your homework will help you make the right decision and not one that you might live to regret. This is especially true when it comes to buying boats.

There is a bewildering choice of inflatable boats out there, large and small, ranging in price from a few hundred pounds to well into six figures. Not all of these are RIBs.

When is a RIB not a RIB?

zodiac soft inflatable ribA soft inflatable rib

The quick answer is “When it’s a SIB”, or a Soft Inflatable Boat. Soft inflatables are more affordable and do not have a hard hull, which means that they are easy to deflate and store, or carry in the back of a car.

Because of the RIB’s popularity, a lot of people make the mistake of referring to all inflatable boats as RIBs. A true RIB has a rigid hull, normally V shaped, solid floor, with inflatable tubes above, making it a much more stable and seaworthy boat than a non-rigid inflatable boat.

As a rule RIBs are more expensive than SIBs, because of their more complex design.


RIB - Pros RIB - Cons SIB - Pros SIB - Cons
Performance + safe at speed Price Price Limited speed capability and engine size
Rugged + stable in choppy conditions Heavy to launch and bring ashore Portability + easy to launch Less stable at speed than RIB, easily flipped
Storage lockers for gear Storage costs ashore, mooring costs Light in weight Lack of comfort
Solid floor Trailer required for road transport No need for trailer Limited space
Comfort - more secure seating. Big boat feel Storage. Non-foldable Easily stored Lower in water - much wetter ride than RIB
Wide range of uses depending on engine size Not suitable for beaching OK for fishing and general runabout, easily beached. Excellent as tenders Not well suited for water-skiing, as a dive boat or in choppy conditions

Some questions to ask yourself…

  • Rigid Inflatable Boat or Soft Inflatable Boat? It might seem obvious but it is important to choose the right boat to suit your needs and your budget.

  • Do you want high performance or a boat that can be used for fishing, or waterskiing, or as a dive boat, or for beach hopping with the family?

  • How big an engine? For a SIB the limit is about 30hp, for RIBs you can go 150hp+

  • How many passengers do you want to be able to carry?

  • Where are you going to keep the boat?

  • Will you need a road trailer? If so, what is the maximum weight that your vehicle can tow?

  • Are you going to buy new or used? There are pros and cons for both.

What is your budget? Remember that the purchase cost is just the beginning - running costs of a large RIB can be substantial - including surveyor’s costs, fuel, maintenance, equipment and repairs. Then there are storage costs, harbour dues and insurance.

  • Is it best to buy through a broker?

  • Do you have enough boating experience?

  • If not have you booked some RYA training?

The history of RIBs

The first true RIBs were conceived and developed in the 1960s by Atlantic College, South Wales for use as sailing club rescue boats. Inflatable boats had been around for decades but the idea of combining inflatable tubes with a rigid V shaped hull, originally made out of plywood but later out of fibreglass, came from the Atlantic College students and their headmaster Desmond Hoare, a retired admiral.

These early designs attracted a lot of attention from the boating world, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). The RNLI adapted the designs for the production of their Atlantic class inshore rescue boats, which they named after the college. The Atlantic class boats have continued to be developed and used by the RNLI for over 40 years.

RNLI Lifeboats RIB Towergate Safe SkipperRIBs RNLI Lifeboats

RNLI Inshore Lifeboat Centre - East Cowes

If you are interested in seeing how RIBs are constructed and fitted out, then a visit to the Inshore Lifeboat Centre (ILC) in East Cowes is definitely worth the trip. This is where the RNLI’s rigid inflatable Atlantic B Class inshore rescue boats are still built today. Few recreational RIBs are built to the very high standards and cost of the RNLI boats, which are designed to operate safely in rough conditions. Their modern boats have righting systems and even have twin, inversion-proof engines which will restart after a capsize.

Visitors to the ILC in Cowes are made welcome but are asked to book beforehand and make an appointment. Telephone: 01983 292521

What are RIBs made of?

Most recreational RIBs are not built to the very high specs of the RNLI rescue boats, but nonetheless they all follow similar basic principles:

  • The hulls are usually constructed out of Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP), although other materials such as aluminium and carbon fibre are sometimes used.

  • The inflatable tubes are made from either Hypalon or PVC, Hypalon being the more expensive material but easier to repair.

Although most RIBs follow these basic principles, there is a large variety of hull shapes and engine sizes available across a very wide price range.

RIB hull design

Hull design RIB Towergate and Safe SkipperRIB Hull Design

When it comes to buying, choosing the right design of hull to suit your needs is important.

Some RIBs have long and narrow, deep-V shaped hulls designed for very high performance. Others have wider hulls with a shallower V shape at the bows, flattening out at the stern, which provide a more comfortable ride.

RIB Engines

Unlike SIBs, which are limited to a maximum engine size of about 30hp, RIBs can be fitted with very powerful engines up to 300hp, making them incredibly fast (and expensive).

Searching for a RIB - where to start?

A good place to start is by browsing a few of the many websites and forums that are dedicated to the RIB - (see useful links below).

The good news is that being so popular there is plenty of advice available on what to look for when buying either new or second hand RIBs.

How much do RIBs cost?

It is important to consider all the costs you are likely to incur owning a boat, not just the capital costs. You may have already thought about a purchase price but your budget should factor in all the running costs. Here is a checklist of budget items:

  • Purchase cost - think of a number, then reduce it to allow for running costs, say by at least 10%

  • Trailer costs - RIBs, their engines and gear are heavy. If a road trailer is not included then this can add a substantial amount to your budget. Check your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity

  • Survey - essential if you buy a used boat that is costing you thousands of pounds

  • Storage fees - shop around and get quotes from e.g. marinas, boat yards and harbour conservancies for storage ashore and afloat

  • Harbour dues - if you are based in a harbour, expect to pay annual fees

  • Engine servicing - get quotes from service engineers before you buy

  • Maintenance - hull cleaning, props, tubes, antifouling

  • Equipment and spares - this will vary according to how well the boat is equipped when you buy. Don’t forget clothing, life jackets, safety equipment

  • Visitor mooring / berthing fees - factor in costs for trips and cruises

  • Fuel - make an allowance for fuel, based on expected annual usage

  • Repairs - wise to factor this in, even if an unknown

  • Insurance - get a quote here

Buying a new RIB vs buying a used RIB

RIB Towergate Safe SkipperRIBEYE on a trailer

It is advisable to decide early on whether you are going to buy new or used, as the buying process differs a little. If you buy new, then there is much more scope to have the boat customised to suit your needs, which might include the seating layout, choice of finish and equipment specification. While a new boat will cost more, it may prove easier to arrange good finance terms as repayments can be spread over longer periods.

If you buy a pre-owned boat, say 4 or 5 years old, it should be a lot less than the cost when it was new and the depreciation will be less as it gets older, provided you maintain it in good condition. You will need to have the boat inspected by a surveyor but you may end up with an excellent boat at a very good price.

New vs used pros and cons:

New RIB - Pros New RIB - Cons Used RIB - Pros Used RIB- Cons
Good financing options Rapid depreciation early on Purchase cost is less than new Financing options not as good as for new
Warranty protection Purchase cost Usually better equipped than new Warranty may not be included
Choose the specification to suit your needs Equipment and gear will be extra Less depreciation Specification as seen

The Recreational Craft Directive (RCD)

All recreational RIBs that are between 2.5m and 24m in length are required by European Law to comply with minimum standards set by the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD).

When looking for a RIB, the RCD category will be marked on the identification plate attached to the RIB, along with the maximum recommended load , number of persons recommended, manufacturer’s name etc.

The RCD states that manufacturers have to categorise their RIBs into one of four categories that are rated according to the seaworthiness capabilities as follows:

  • A - Ocean: Designed for extended voyages where conditions may exceed wind force F8 (Beaufort scale) and significant wave heights of 4m and above, and the vessel largely self-sufficient.

  • B - Offshore: Designed for offshore voyages where conditions up to and including wind force F8 and significant wave heights up to and including 4m may be experienced.

  • C - Inshore: Designed for voyages in coastal waters, large bays, estuaries, lakes and rivers where conditions up to and including wind force F6 and significant wave heights up to and including 2m may be experienced.

  • D - Sheltered Waters: Designed for voyages on small lakes, rivers and canals where conditions up to and including wind force F4 and significant wave heights up to and including 0.5m may be experienced.

Searching for a RIB

RIB Towergate Safe SkipperRIBEYE at sea

Once you have a better idea of the type of boat you are looking for and have worked out your budget, then in many ways the search becomes easier. The best place to do this in the early stages is by searching online. Most online marketplaces enable you to refine your search to suit your requirements and some have advanced search features which will notify you if a boat matching your search criteria comes on the market.

Online forums

By signing into online forums, you can quickly get advice from people with experience. If you browse online you will find several for RIB enthusiasts. Here is one to get you started:

Boat shows

london boat showLondon Boat Sow

Visit the boat shows if you can, not only to look at the boats, but talk to the people working in the boating industry - designers, manufacturers, finance people, the training schools and more. Most will happily offer their advice at these shows and are used to doing so. There are many boat shows held around the UK during the year, the largest being London (every January) and Southampton (every September). There is also RIBEX a dedicated RIB boat show held annually in Cowes, Isle of Wight.

It is advisable to talk to a few brokers in your area as they will be able to help guide you through the boat buying process. Most are happy to offer advice and can show you round RIBs in your price range.


  • The more background boating knowledge you can build up the better

  • Choose the right type of boat to suit your needs and experience

  • Work out your budget, including running costs

  • Check out the RIB forums - a great place for advice

  • Decide whether you want to buy new or used

  • Visit the boat shows

  • Talk to brokers; most will offer advice and help guide you through the process

  • Sign up for some training

  • Get out there and have some fun

Check out the full range of RYA courses in detail at RYA.

Check out a selection of RYA training schools in UK and Europe on Safe Skipper here.

Towergate Insurance have teamed up with Safe Skipper Apps to create a free to download boating app with invaluable tips and practical advice for on boat preparation,checklists, equipment, communications and emergency procedures. Check out the app at Safe Skipper.

Next steps: - see RIB Buyer’s Guide - part 2 for some more detailed advice

Want to find out more about our RIB Insurance?

More details

Do you want to read more?

We’ve lot loads of great boating videos, tips, graphics and guides. Scroll for more based on what you’re been reading.


Top 10 Scenic UK Waterways

Few experiences can match up to boating on one of the UK’s waterways so we’ve put together a top ten list of our favourite canals and rivers so you can enjoy some of the best...

View article